U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein has done Democrats around the world a great service, despite being vilified by her opponents. The feisty eighty-one-year-old confronted members of her party and opposition Republicans on December 9 when she took to the floor of the Senate.
Feinstein, who is the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, spoke to lawmakers after publishing a devastating report on the CIA’s torture methods used on terror suspects. The suspects were locked away, without any recourse to the courts, in Guantánamo Bay after the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.
Now that the 525-page report is out in public (there is still a 6,700-page classified document), European governments have no excuse to keep up their years of denial over their role in this ignominious episode.
If the European countries involved in so-called extraordinary renditions refuse to break their wall of silence, the credibility of the European Union as the upholder of human rights will be completely undermined.
And more—European governments will be in no position to try to persuade undemocratic or authoritarian regimes to respect even a modicum of human rights. Europe will have lost its moral high ground.
Feinstein’s opponents beg to differ. They have already claimed that the Senate report will compromise if not endanger the lives of CIA agents. That was after they did everything possible to destroy the report’s evidence. Last spring, Feinstein accused the CIA of trying to tamper with that evidence—culled from 6.3 million pages of the agency’s records—by infiltrating the committee’s computers.
Dick Cheney, who was vice president in the George W. Bush administration that set up Guantánamo Bay and allowed torture, was unapologetic about the CIA’s activities. “I’d do it again in a minute,” he said in an interview on December 14. Not once did he mention the word “torture.”
The very existence of the Guantánamo Bay detention center and the use of torture have damaged the United States. U.S. President Barack Obama said exactly that in 2013, four years after he promised to close down the camp. Since the report was released, not once has Obama suggested that the perpetrators of torture be prosecuted.
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From 2002, for several years, leaders across Europe collaborated with the United States in setting up secret detention sites in their own countries. They also cooperated in sending suspects to Guantánamo Bay or to a U.S. detention center in Afghanistan. Poland, Germany, Romania, and Lithuania, to name just a few countries, either participated in extraordinary renditions or set up special detention centers known as black sites.
With few exceptions, former European leaders have remained silent over how they collaborated with the CIA. Aleksander Kwaśniewski, a former Polish president, and Leszek Miller, a former Polish left-wing prime minister, only recently admitted the existence of the black sites. The politicians were quick to say they didn’t approve of America’s torture methods—as if the CIA would ask permission or even heed the Europeans’ concerns.
The former German government led by the Social Democratic chancellor Gerhard Schröder, who was so opposed to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, was also implicated in the rendition of Khalid El-Masri. A German-Lebanese citizen, El-Masri was held by the CIA in a case of mistaken identity.
To its credit, the European Parliament tried to keep the spotlight on the renditions and detention centers, including Guantánamo Bay. And European governments did criticize its existence.
Yet at the same time, there was tacit relief on the part of many European governments that the United States was dealing with the terrorist suspects. Washington had let European governments off the hook even though their involvement in renditions had turned them into collaborators.
Over the past few years, the sordid details of the force-feeding of detainees and other activities rarely made headlines. But now, with the publication of Feinstein’s report, European governments should come clean about their collaboration with the CIA.
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Former European leaders may hope and believe that the Senate report will deflect any attention from them to the CIA. They may even believe they have been let off the hook. That should not be allowed to happen.
The CIA had requested that the names of countries that hosted its detention sites “or with which the CIA negotiated the hosting of sites, as well as information directly or indirectly identifying such countries, be redacted from the classified version provided to [Senate Intelligence] Committee members.” That is no reason to prolong a silence that is damaging to Europe’s belief in human rights.